The official start of the Oscar season begins with TIFF. In the last twenty-five years, countless Oscar and winners, were screened at this festival; major films like LA Confidential (1997), Boogie Nights (1997), The Apostle (1997), American Beauty (1999), Lost in Translation (2003), Sideways (2004), Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Last King of Scotland (2006), Away from Her (2007), No Country for Old Men (2007), Juno (2007), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Michael Clayton (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Hurt Locker (2009), The Kings Speech (2010), The Artist (2011), The Descendants (2011), Argo (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Gravity (2014), La La Land (2016) and Manchester By the Sea (2016), great films all.
Sometimes the best part of the festival is being surprised as I was last year with the extraordinary Jackie (2016) for which Natalie Portman should have won the Academy Award.
Which film comes out of TIFF this year, headed for the Oscars? True to form the programmers have selected a bounty of great films for screening in the city. Here are the ones I am most looking forward to experiencing.
1. Downsizing – Alexander Payne is a hugely gifted director who takes a massive risk this time, a break from his realistic comedies and dramas. Matt Damon plays a man who agrees to be shrunk to help with life costs, but his wife backs out at the last moment, leaving him this generations incredible shrinking man. Sounds great! Sounds dark! And sounds like a Damon acting fest.
2. Surburbicon – George Clooney directed this strange tale of a small, picturesque, suburbia gone mad, written by the Cohen brothers, set in 1959, casting his friend Matt Damon in the second major film of the year for the actor. Clooney is a fine filmmaker, and the fact he is directing this bizarre film set in the suburbs makes it worth a serious look. Julianne Moore co-stars. That Damon is cast makes it doubly exciting.
3. Molly’s Game – The true story of Molly, who for several years in a Hollywood ran a highly profitable, high stakes poker game that attracted major players in LA and Hollywood, including actor Tobey Maguire. Jessica Chastain is cast as Molly Bloom, world class skier, who became the host of this game, in a film directed and written by Aaron Sorkin. It looks to be a great role for Chastain, possibly, along with Natalie Portman the finest actress of her generation. Idris Elba is her lawyer, Kevin Costner her father.
4. I, Tonya – Tonya Harding was one of the most polarizing figures of the nineties, a talented Olympic figure skater with a trailer trash mentality. Responsible for injuring Nancy Kerrigan to take her out of the Olympics paving her way to gold, Harding was a vicious, grasping woman, willing to do whatever it took for her own gain. Margot Robbie is Harding and that is enough to get me there. This is an actress on the rise, and her performance here could be her breakthrough.
5. Chappaquiddick – I remember this happening which gives away my age, but very clearly I recall this event because it ended any chance Ted Kennedy had on being President. Car crash, young woman dies, Kennedy cover up, instant scandal. Kennedy survived the scandal, but would never be President. Bruce Dern portrays papa Joe Kennedy who pulled a lot of strings for his boys, Jason Clarke is Kennedy. Kata Mara is Mary Jane, the doomed young woman whose ghost called for justice from the grave.
6. The Shape of Water – The trailer put a hook in me. It looks like a Cold War fairy tale for adults, with a mute woman, a janitor discovering an aquatic creature the government has found. She bonds with it, falls in love with it, and teaches it. The scientists are fascinated, the government wants to dissect it. Sally Hawking no looks enchanting, Del Toro might have made a masterpiece. The effects look stunning, the look of the film is exceptional, and Hawkins moves as in a dream, it looks amazing. Here’s hoping it is.
7. Battle of the Sexes – Bobby Riggs, portrayed by Steve Carell was an over the hill mouthpiece who believed women should remain in the kitchen and out of pro tennis. Billy Jean King, portrayed by Emma Stone believed different, and after declining his invitation to a game between the sexes she finally agreed, and kicked his arrogant ass around the court. Those are facts. Behind the scenes what we did not know was she was exploring her sexuality while he was terrified of being defeated. Great cast, solid directing team, great story.
8. mother! – Aronofsky is one of the most visionary directors at work today, and has been known to guide actresses to greatness. Ellen Burstyn and Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar and Mila Kunis in Black Swan (2010) bear me out. Here in this thriller he guides a cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfieffer, and Ed Harris in a mysterious film he has managed to keep quiet and off the Internet. Great, only makes me want to see it more.
9. Stronger – Based on the true story of Jeff Bauman, a young man who lost his legs during the terror attack on the Boston Marsthon. With Jake Gyllenhall as Bauman, and the brilliant Tatania Muslany as Erin his girl friend, we can expect a harrowing, uplifting drama about the power of love and the human spirit. Could this be the one that lands the actor an Oscar nomination? Will this be Muslanys’ rocket to features?
10. The Disaster Artist – The Room (2002) is among the worst films ever made, a hellish viewing experience. Directed and starring the untalented Tommy Wiseau, the film has become notorious for what it is not, and that is watchable, not a single redeeming quality. James Franco, unquestionably a brilliant actor does double duty as actor and director, portraying Wiseau in the film about the making of a The Room. James Dean (2000), Milk (2008), 127 Hours (2010), Spring Breakers (2013), for Franco? I am there with bells on.
11. The Mountain Between Us – Based on a true story, this film sees Idris Elba as a surgeon and Kate Winslet as a woman on her way to be married, who crash high in the mountains. That they survive the crash at all is a miracle, but now they must find their way down the snow covered mountains. With cougars in their midst, the elements pounding at them, their own survival skill pushed to the limit they make their way down, finding the will to live bolstered by a love that blossoms. Oscar bait for both.
12. Mark Felt – Liam Neeson is Mark Felt who was Deep Throat, the high placed government operative who secretly fed information to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal. They met in underground garages, alleys, wherever Felt was safe, because what he fed Woodward would bring down a President. Neeson needs a role like this to get him out of the action realm and back to real acting.
13. Borg-McEnroe – The casting of bad boy Shia LaBouef as the ultimate sports bad boy John McEnroe intrigues me. LaBouef can act, no question and has been known to take great risks for his art, but this is a high wire act because McEnroe’s temper tantrums are so burned into our minds. “Are you serious” he would scream at the umpire as thousands booed him. Ferociously competitive, a proud and brash New Yorker, this could be brilliant, or bunk.
14. Woman Walks Ahead – Jessica Chastain portrays the woman sent to paint the portrait of Sitting Bull, and becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the great Chief. I love westerns, I love history and my adoration for Miss Chastain is well documented. Cannot wait. The question will be, for which film will she be nominated?
15. Darkest Hour – Many critics and film writers have already awarded Gary Oldman the Academy Award for Best Actor after seeing the trailer for the film, but in fact they had crowned him before that. It reminds me of Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond (1981), he was going to win the moment he was cast. Now I love Oldman, and yes he should have a handful of nominations, but let’s wait and see the film before giving him that Oscar, shall we? Joe Wright directs the gifted actor as Winston Churchill, in what might be the performance of his career.
16. Mary Shelly – The teenager that wrote Frankenstein must have been a fascinating young girl. What sort of thoughts did she conjure to write such a book before she was twenty? Elle Fanning portrays the writer in this film about her life and her creation of one of the greatest pieces of literature written. When did Fanning become one of our most interesting young actresses?
17. Happy End – Michael Haneke? Isabelle Huppert? Enough said, I will be there.
18. The Florida Project – A Sundance hit the film deplores the lives of children trapped in poverty, living in a hotel just a few miles from Disney World, which they will never see. They make their own sort of Disney World in the hotel where they live, a run down dump managed by a decent man, Willem Defoe who becomes the surrogate father and protector of the kids. Said to be simply astonishing, I am curious being a Dafoe follower.
19. Mudbound – Another breakout from Sundance that explores a family moving to Mississippi and dealing with the inherent racism all around them, and a family member returning from the Second World War. Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke and Mary Jane Blige are said to be standouts in the picture.
20. Call Me By Your Name – Rave reviews greeted this film at abundance earlier this year, a Coming of age story, a gay romance, the maturing of a teenager realizing his own sexuality. Armie Hammer isvsaid to be exceptional, Michael Stuhlberg is said to be Oscar worthy in this strong film.